Just when the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church seemed to be dying down, another round of accusations has surfaced in recent months. The most recent case to come out is one claiming that Vatican officials have tried to cover up the sexual abuse of two teenage girls by a Minnesota priest from 2004-05. This is especially disconcerting for a number of reasons. First, this alleges that the Vatican itself knew about the abuse did not act (the Vatican has often blamed local bishops for ignoring the problem and not passing information on to Rome, but, as this case indicates, knowledge of the situation seems to have gone much higher). Second, while the vast majority of allegations have concerned abuses that occurred decades ago, this latest development shows that the problem has continued more recently as well.
This latest allegation claims that Father Joseph Pavanivel Jeyapaul abused two girls while serving in the diocese of Crookston, Minnesota from 2004-05. Evidence that the Vatican knew about the abuses and did nothing is obvious in the form of repeated letters sent to the Vatican from Victor Balke, bishop of the diocese in Minnesota. To make matters even worse, Balke also complained that large amounts of money had been disappearing under the watch of Jeyapaul. Still, the Vatican did nothing.
So where is Father Jeyapaul today? He is in India, his native country, where is head of a church education commission, and still a Catholic Priest. Addressing this lack of action by the Church, Jeff Anderson, attorney for one of the abuse victims said, “This is systematic. All roads … lead to Rome and the top officials there,” and, “As horrific as the rape of children by Jeyapaul is … the cover-up of it is every bit as horrific and criminal.” The county attorney for Roseau County, where the abuses occurred, is trying to extradite Jeyapaul from India for trial in the United States. As of April 5, Jeyapaul was still in India.
The issue of abuse has been an ongoing one for the Church since at least the 1970’s, but it was in 2002, amid a flurry of media attention, that the issue became widely publicized. An estimated 80% of accusations worldwide have occurred in the United States. The Church seems to have put itself in a very undesirable position through its reaction to the problem. It has been criticized for reacting too slowly or for not seeming to care at all. Some of this has resulted from misunderstandings between the Vatican and the faithful in the United States, as many Church officials have stated that the Vatican finds American Catholics strange and ignorant of the ways of the Church in Rome. Whatever the reason, this has unquestionably led to further outrage over the abuses.
One thing the Church should have recognized about Americans is their love for conspiracy theories. Americans love to think of a big, bad, evil plot somewhere out there whether it is the government, the corporations, or even aliens. And while this may be irrational, the Church has given people plenty of reasons to suspect a large-scale cover-up operation to be in progress. Whether or not this is true, this is what a growing number of Americans believe. And more than anyone, the Church should understand the power of belief.
The AP contributed to this story.